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Will technology replace interpreters ?

  Tags: Interpreting | Career
 Language Learning Forum : Languages & Work Post Reply
18 messages over 3 pages: 1 2 3  Next >>
zografialep
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 Message 1 of 18
10 September 2013 at 9:13am | IP Logged 
So, my dream job is to become an interpeter- translator, since I have a huge passion
for languages and I think it will be interesting enough for me. However, we see that
technology has made huge steps in written traslation and even similtaneous
interpetation.
I know google Translate is anything but accurate, but that is now. What about in 10,
20 years? Technology is evolving so fast we can't even imagine how the world will be in
such a small period of time.
Also, I dont know if you've stumbled across it too, but youtube has installed
subtitles in some videos, that are not premade. I dont know exactly how this
works but it seems like similtaneous interpetation- as far as I know the computer
listens to the words being said and translates, or something like that.
What is your opinion on that? Do you think that those professions will disappear in
the next few decades? And is it worth pursuing such a career?
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patrickwilken
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 Message 2 of 18
10 September 2013 at 10:04am | IP Logged 
I guess the honest answer is 'Who knows?'

20 years ago I hesitated to learn touch typing because, you know, voice recognition was going to be here real soon, and typing would be a thing of the past. Glad I ignored that, and went ahead and learned TT anyway.

I very much doubt that good nuanced translation will be replaced anytime soon. Cheap, rough and ready perhaps.
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Iversen
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 Message 3 of 18
10 September 2013 at 10:04am | IP Logged 
Once upon a time any respectable newspaper had a host of proofreaders on its payroll. They are gone now because it was cheaper to use spelling checkers. And we have already seen homepages on the internet where all translations are done as machine translations - and of course this was clear from the dismal quality of the translations.

So one likely scenario is that bad, but cheap translations will encroach upon the territory of high-quality, but expensive translations. Maybe the translators which are left in the cold can earn some mony by repairing the worst errors and 'polish' the surface. But it is equally likely that the translations are left as they are and important papers are written and read in English or other important languages.

Right now there are two factors which could improve the quality of machine translations drastically: a grammar check (which also checks that negations don't mysteriously disappear) and a check on proper names, institutions etc. based on knowledge which already is accessible on the internet (such as the titles and names of the leaders of governments in different countries, just to mention one example). Time will tell whether a machine made translation ever will be able to match a good human-made translation, but even today Google Translate can match a bad humanmade translation. There is certainly room for improvement, and Google adds languages faster than I do so I wouldn't be surprised to see the media go for cheap and mediocre translations (albeit hopefully better than those provided now).

And then those bad translations will be the fodder for all later translation machines in a vicious circle.

Speech recognition is also making enormeous progress these years due to faster computing. However I don't know much about the nature and limitations of the current technology. If the feeble and errorridden attempts of Youtube represent the current level then I wouldn't expect human interpreters to become superfluous soon. But we can expect to see some progress - hopefully also for other languages than English - and then human interpretation may be squeezed out of the market in favor of bad interpreting or (maybe more likely) a limitation on the languages you can use in international science, diplomacy and commerce.

After all, there are still old-fashioned restaurants around even though MacDonalds and Burger King and food from supermarkets take most of the business. But you have to pay through your nose for the privilege of frequenting such a legacy institution.

Edited by Iversen on 10 September 2013 at 2:18pm

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patrickwilken
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 Message 4 of 18
10 September 2013 at 10:15am | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
Right now there are two factors which could improve the quality of machine translations drastically: a grammar check (which also checks that negations don't mysteriously disappear) and a check on proper names, institutions etc. based on knowledge which already is accessible on the internet (such as the titles and names of the leaders of governments in different countries, just to mention one example). T.


When I used to work as a science editor a few years ago there was a whole group of copy-editors working nearby. They had great in house software that would do much of what you say, but they still had to do a lot of the work themselves. I assume good translation would be much harder.
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Sunja
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 Message 5 of 18
10 September 2013 at 10:57am | IP Logged 
I have not heard how well these machines operate. I'm assuming that in 20 years they will have solved the problems with echoing or noise; a clock ticking, someone coughing in the background, etc. What if the context is not clear or someone speaks in half-sentences or mumbles?

I also wonder how a machine interprets communication (other than words). There's a whole list of nuances, gestures, behaviors that we interpret visually. Take the difference between saying "well, that's just fine" while smiling, or saying "well, that's just fine" and throwing your hands up the air in exasperation. This is a really simple example, but it illustrates some of the problems interpreters have to face. What about embedded meanings or being able to identify cultural information through language -- words that don't translate well that are unique to a particular culture? Everything a court interpreter does, for example, plays upon the jury and I myself can't imagine that machines could do a better job, but I'm not involved in law and haven't really looked into these SR machines. As far as I know, that's the field where most of the money invested in SR goes.

I'm not sure how it is everywhere with court reporting/interpreting, but wouldn't there be times when electronic devices are not allowed in court? I think it would depend on the court. Some machines may not be accurate enough for some languages or dialects -- especially if they are largely spoken and not written.





Edited by Sunja on 10 September 2013 at 11:07am

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Iwwersetzerin
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 Message 6 of 18
10 September 2013 at 12:18pm | IP Logged 
This whole "Translators/interpreters will soon be replaced by computers" has been around since the 1950s, but business is booming more than ever. I'm a translator and I'm not worried about my career at all. Computers will only be capable of completely replacing humans once we have real artificial intelligence and that's not likely going to happen any day soon.
Sure, Google Translate and co. are getting better, but they are still a long way from being good enough. I always use this example: would you sign a legally binding contract that was translated by Google? Or have your testimony in court be interpreted by a computer? Probably not.
The way I see it is that the profession is changing. The less important texts are increasingly machine translated and post-edited by a human (post-editing machine translated documents would be my definition of a job from hell, but that's another topic). If you want to get a decent quality from machine translated documents, you still need a lot of work from humans (essentially preparing the document, using controlled language and glossaries and post-editing it). In my experience, post-editing a machine translated text takes just as long or even longer than translating it from scratch (at least for specialized texts, which is 99% of what professional translators translate anyway) and is the most boring task I can imagine.
So, in my humble opinion, not so important texts that aren't for publication or for information only, that don't have to be perfect, will increasingly be machine translated (with or without human post-editing), but the important work (legal, financial, medical, marketing, literature etc.) where quality matters will still be translated by human translators. Average translators will likely turn into post-editors in the future, while the top-notch translators will still be able to get the work that requires high quality.
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Henkkles
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 Message 7 of 18
10 September 2013 at 2:23pm | IP Logged 
We won't have perfect translations until computers comprehend semantics, which will be quite some time.
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Ogrim
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 Message 8 of 18
10 September 2013 at 3:11pm | IP Logged 
I would say not in our lifetime.

Interpretation is very different from translation, so I'll argue differently as regards each of them.

The professional interpreters I know work mainly for international organisations, like the EU, UN, NATO, OECD etc. Even though one could imagine that the technology develops in such a way that a voice recognition system would be able to "understand" what is said in e.g. French and reproduce it in English, there are far too many variables for it ever to be so good that these organisation would trust it. What about accents, dialects, varieties (québecois vs. Paris French), idomatic expressions etc. etc. Do you really think Obama would rely on a machine interpretation in his discussions with Putin or Hollande about the Syrian crisis? I am not saying human interpreters do not make mistakes, but they will be very careful not to misinterpret essential communication, and they also rely on interpreting the non-verbal communication, such as hand gestures, facial expressions etc. So interpreters will be around for a very very long time.

As regards translation, I think Iwwersetzerin makes the point nicely, so I will not repeat the arguments.


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